Moms and dads lend them their complete focus.
Teammates, as well as coaches on each side of the field, offer their total respect.
And yet, by and large, the sum of their hard work routinely goes unnoticed.
Such is the life of offensive linemen, where headlines typically don’t herald your progress; you merely go about your business and hope that’s enough.
“It doesn’t matter to us,” says South Medford senior lineman Brandon Ditty of playing outside the spotlight. “What matters is our success on the football field and that’s it. I don’t hear anybody complaining. It’s just go on to the next week and be happy for the guys that are (getting headlines).”
If success is the ultimate goal, then Ditty and his peers have enjoyed plenty of it during their time at South Medford, which recently secured its second straight Southwest Conference championship.
The second-ranked Panthers (8-1) enter the Class 6A state playoffs against Gresham (4-4) Friday night averaging 367.3 yards per game in total offense and a scoring advantage of 41-12 per game despite one of the more challenging schedules in the state.
With several of the offensive linemen also doubling down on the defensive side, South Medford is also only allowing 253.4 yards per game in total defense with a plus-15 turnover ratio.
“They’re the hardest workers on the team,” says Panthers senior tailback/linebacker Jaylin Parnell. “It’s really special to see those guys just dominate.”
It’s also been special to see the veteran group — which boasts all-SWC acclaim up and down the line — battle their way through injury and a rotation of reserves without skipping a beat.
South Medford’s front line is intact and senior-driven for the playoffs, with Michael Cormier at left tackle, Ditty at left guard, Daniel Shenk at center, Dylan Davis at right guard and Martin Laupola at right tackle.
Seniors Evan Dallas, Bryson Lexow and Vohn Fraser were also pivotal in filling voids this season with all but Shenk missing time at some point this year. Shenk came on in Week 2 to replace Ditty at center after the latter broke the radius bone in his left forearm against defending 6A state champion West Linn.
“After we had four of our five offensive linemen go down, that was a big shakeup and they all picked up really well to hold the line until we came back,” says the 17-year-old Ditty. “As a whole team, we were extremely proud of them and thought they did great filling in.”
As a unit, Panthers head coach Bill Singler has nothing but praise for the players doing all the dirty work in the trenches.
“Our linemen have done a terrific job,” says Singler. “Damian Jackson, our offensive line coach, has really brought a lot to the table for us as far as coaching fundamental line play. These guys are all seniors and that makes a difference when you have kids that have been coached up for three years. They care about what they’re doing, it’s their last year, they’re staying on top of their game and it shows.”
And when push comes to shove, there’s no more important gridiron group than the ones doing all the pushing and shoving.
“Everybody knows in football it all starts up front, whether it’s the D-line on defense or offensive line on offense,” adds Singler. “If you don’t have a cast of characters in those positions that can hold their own or more so, it’s going to be tough. Football is not 7-on-7, so I’ve been really happy with how these kids have approached the game. In the offseason, they’ve just worked so hard together with (strength training coordinator Noah Berman) in the weight room and getting themselves stronger.”
It’s a group of players who crawled out of bed on their own for 5 a.m. workouts throughout the summer. Strength, agility and flexibility have been paramount to their training, and they did it all knowing few would notice beyond their own tight-knit group.
“A lot of us have worked really hard in the weight room, getting faster and using whatever we can to be better than other teams and have that edge,” says Cormier, who stands as the largest of the starting group at 6-foot and 234 pounds. “Other teams may have the big guys, but maybe they’re a little slower, so we just use what we can as our advantage to succeed.”
With an average size of 5-10 and 218 pounds, the Panthers have never been confused as the most intimidating offensive line in the state. They don’t step off the bus to oohs and aahs over their physical stature. But when the game is over, they have made their point that tenacity and chemistry can often serve as a great equalizer.
“We’re going into every week knowing we’re going to be the smallest in the matchup,” says Ditty, who is 5-10 and 230 pounds. “I think we’re kind of numb to it. We don’t really care who’s bigger than us, we just do our assignment and block that portion out.”
Adds Cormier: “Everybody just works as one unit. We trust each other, we communicate well and we just all work together and know what we need to do and where we need to be.”
That level of understanding and trust only comes through time, and the group spends plenty of it together on and off the field.
“When you care about each other,” says Singler, “when you hang together, laugh and cry and bleed together ... it makes a lot of difference, and you can see it in those guys’ eyes.”
And you can see it in the confidence it builds on all those around them.
“I just know if I do my part and run hard, big plays are going to happen because they’re so good at doing their part,” says Parnell. “Honestly, all the linemen are the toughest dudes out there. There’s not much more you can say about them. They deserve all the credit for what we’re doing because they sure do get after it.”
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry